Prompt: The Offer | Word Count: 500 words exactly | Genre: fiction

March 27, 2020

Caroline was overwhelmed, working full time and running a household that had grown overnight from two to include their two college boys and her aging parents. Their house hadn’t been this full for long time. She was cooking, cleaning and keeping things moving.

Caroline dreaded going to the grocery store in the best of moments. Now, however, she worried about picking up the virus along with her groceries. Still, they had to eat, so she had to shop. She’d worked it all out for maximum efficiency and minimum exposure. She had her list, her wipes, and had timed it when she thought the shelves would be loaded, but the aisles empty. Thus armed, she stepped out of the car.

As she headed for the supermarket entrance, she noticed the older couple hunched together in their car. They waved a Kleenex at her through the windshield to flag her down. She’d read about older couples, especially vulnerable to the virus, who were afraid to go out. Could this be one of them? Even though she didn’t feel like she had time, she couldn’t walk away.

“How can I help?” Caroline offered as she approached the car.

“We’ve been waiting for hours,” the grandfatherly gentleman said. “I’m Gerald, and this is Mamie. You look trustworthy. We were hoping you could get a few things for us. We need our prescriptions and a few groceries.” He proffered an envelope.

Inside was their prescription insurance card, a short list of basic supplies — milk, bread, soup — and three crisp twenties. “You can keep the change.”

“I’d be happy to help you,” Caroline said eyeing the short list. “Are you sure you don’t need more than this?”

“That’s all for now. Our pension check comes next week. We don’t eat much these days. Mamie can do without her ice cream at night.”

Once in the store, Caroline made quick work of her list and theirs. Their small collection of food contrasted so sharply with the cart she’d filled for herself, that she added eggs, fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese and ice cream, along with a rare canister of wipes she’d been lucky to find.

Instinctively, she knew they wouldn’t want her charity, so when she returned to the car she didn’t mention the extras she’d added. Instead she made an offer, “I was hoping you would give me you phone number and address. That way, I can pick some things up for your when I go to the store next time and have one of my sons drop them by for you.”

For the next seven weeks, that is exactly what they did. Mamie dictated their list and one of Caroline’s sons delivered the groceries, along with an extra treat or two. In return, Mamie tutored Caroline’s oldest son in German over the phone. When the quarantine lifted, Gerald and Mamie were healthy. Her son got an A in German. A friendship that lasted many years had been born in the parking lot of the local supermarket.

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